No. 1 Chatfield baseball survives late-inning scare by rival Dakota Ridge

Chatfield senior Quinton Low, far right, and the Chargers' dugout watch Low's 2-run bast in the first inning Saturday afternoon at Dakota Ridge High School. The Chargers edged the Eagles 7-6. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

LITTLETON — In the 90-degree heat Saturday afternoon, top-ranked Chatfield sweated out 7-6 victory over Class 5A Jeffco League rival Dakota Ridge.

“It was crazy, but that’s Jeffco baseball,” Chatfield coach Brett Pieratt said about Dakota Ridge bring the tying run to the plate after sophomore Thomas Hartman belted a 2-run home run to make it a 1-run game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Dakota Ridge senior Logan Balfanz (10) is greeted at home plate by senior Ben Gultig (6) after a solo home run by the senior in the bottom of the first inning against Chatfield. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Chatfield senior lefty Colby Cruser didn’t wilt after giving up the home run on the first pitch he threw after coming in relief for starter Matthew Lighthall. Cruser struck out the next batter — Dakota Ridge senior Ben Gultig — to end the game.

“I felt loose and my arm was feeling pretty good. There are pitch-count rules and I let my pitch-count get a little too high,” Lighthall said after coming out with 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh inning after striking out 15 batters. “We’ve got plenty of guys in the pen who can come in and close it.”

Dakota Ridge (7-6, 5-2 in 5A Jeffco) had only four hits on the game, but three of the hits were home runs. Senior Logan Balfanz had a solo run in the first inning. Senior Bennett Gregory had a 2-run blast off Lighthall in the sixth inning to cut the Chargers’ lead to 5-4. Then there was Hartman’s blast to make it a 1-run game again.

“We had our fingers crossed,” Pieratt said after Hartman hit the 2-run home run on the first pitch he saw from Cruser. “Colby does a good job. He has closed a few times for us.”

The final strikeout call was even a little strange. It appeared that the home plate umpire pointed to first base on the full-count pitch. Gultig wasn’t sure if the umpire had called a ball or a strike.

“It was crazy,” Lighthall said of the final inning. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind he (Cruser) wouldn’t get it done.”

Offensively, senior Quenton Low did his damage early with a monster 2-run home run in the top of the first inning.

“We barreled up a couple of balls early,” Low said of his 2-run home run in the first inning that was followed up by sophomore Mason Lowe’s 2-run shot in the sixth inning. “You can’t be mad about 11 hits.”

Dakota Ridge senior Thomas Hartman steps on second base on the way to turning a double-play Saturday against Chatfield. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Chatfield (11-2, 6-1) had four straight hits from the 6 to 9 hole hitters in the top of the seventh inning that produced two key insurance runs. Junior Mason Cowgill had an RBI double and senior Drew Lytle drove in another run with an RBI single.

Dakota Ridge junior Gavin Kaiser had a strong five innings on the mound giving up just three runs on five hits.

“Every time we play Dakota Ridge it’s a grind,” Pieratt said. “It’s always a 1-run game.”

The win kept Chatfield No. 1 in the RPI standings. Valor Christian (11-2, 7-0) defeated Chatfield 3-1 a few days earlier to clinch the conference title for the Eagles.

“The goal is host a regional and hopefully see Valor again,” Lighthall said of the bounce-back win after the loss to Valor. “A loss like that you have to come back and just play your game to get the win. That is what we did today.”

Heading into the final week of the regular season, Chatfield and Valor are locks to make the 24-team regional field. Dakota Ridge, Ralston Valley and Lakewood are right on the bubble to make the postseason.

“This games are important,” Low said of the high school baseball season extended three weeks due to COVID this year. “Growing up with all these kids my entire life it’s fun getting this last round in.”

Chatfield will be without pitcher Logan Carlisle if the Chargers make it all the way to the second week of the state tournament scheduled for June 25 and 26. The hard-throwing Carlisle reports to the Air Force Academy on June 24.

“The vibe is strange,” Pieratt admitted. “Our seniors graduated three weeks ago. We are practicing sometime in the morning. It’s been a little weird for us, but the great thing is we have great senior leadership. They have adapted and have led the way. Our guys don’t seem tired.”

Chatfield senior Matthew Lighthall struck out 15 Dakota Ridge batters Saturday in the Class 5A Jeffco League showdown. The Chargers will finish second in the conference behind Valor Christian. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)